Recently, many undergraduate students received an email from a UNC research team conducting a study about free expression experiences on campus. This survey consisted of numerous questions surrounding the theme of identity expression in and out of the classroom and how students believe free expression affects them.
One researcher in the study, political science professor Timothy Ryan, spoke briefly on the underlying goals of the study, but chose not to reveal too much for fear of data integrity issues.
“Our goals are to better understand students’ attitudes and experiences related to free expression on campus,” Ryan said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel. “We prefer not to say more than that right now for data integrity reasons. We’d prefer that all students — including those who have already completed the survey — have access to the same information about the survey, and just let the questions speak for themselves.”
The questions in the survey range from how voicing an opinion may affect a student’s perception by others in a classroom to the number of times a student hears disrespectful or inappropriate comments about particular groups on campus.
Some students have taken it upon themselves to complete the study, while others feel their responses would not garner change.
“I’m not that political, and I’m not that involved in activism or anything, so if I were to take the survey I probably wouldn’t have too much to add to it,” senior Sana Mohiuddin said. “Also I don’t know what difference it would really make in my experience.”
Another student, sophomore Christian Desimone, said he believes the survey’s importance lies more in the tangible results rather than the impact.
“I think it’s going to be used so someone can write an article saying X percent of students at Chapel Hill think their professor will give them an F on their assignment because of their opinions, and that is bad,” Desimone said. “I don’t think it will (change anything at UNC) because UNC has a very good free speech policy anyway.”
When asked about current ability to express her opinions at UNC, Mohiuddin said she feels UNC is a place where free expression is not only allowed but encouraged.
“I think UNC’s pretty good at showing a lot of diversity, and with diversity comes people with all sorts of differing backgrounds and opinions,” Mohiuddin said. “I think it’s important for everyone to hear all those opinions because it helps us all expand our horizons and perspectives and understand that people think different than us.”
Desimone also said free expression is important, especially at a public university.
“I think (free expression) is important because that’s how you learn is through the free and open exchange of ideas, and it’s important that you’re exposed to different ways of thinking because that’s protected in the Constitution, and this is a public institution and the government can’t impinge on our rights,” Desimone said.
Mohiuddin is a member of the Muslim Student Association at UNC and said she often has opportunities to express her opinions.
“We’ve had vigils in the past after big very serious events have happened, like the Christchurch shooting, we had a vigil after that, just to like show people that there are Muslims here, we are Muslim and we will not stand for any injustices,” Mohiuddin said. “We just wanted to express our presence on this campus and have people reach out to us and hear what they had to say about the shooting.”
Mohiuddin said she feels expressing different opinions does not impose a grading bias at UNC. She also said it helps her better understand beliefs that oppose her own.
“I also took an intro to gay and lesbian literature class which was me kind of stepping outside of my comfort zone, because I’m pretty conservative and religious, which in a lot of religions, homosexuality is condemned,” Mohiuddin said. “It definitely helped me see other people’s perspectives, but I also didn’t feel like I had to agree with their opinions, and I ended up doing pretty well in the class even though I was not necessarily supportive or unsupportive of homosexuality.”
The survey will close on April 19, after which Ryan says they will go into further detail about the objectives of the study and possible effects for UNC students.
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